Sermon: Battle of Wills

Sunday, October 1, 2017
Iglesia Luterana Cristo Rey, El Paso, TX
Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost

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El texto del evangelio que nos toca hoy presenta un encuentro casi cómico entre Jesús y los líderes del templo. Ellos se acercan a Jesús para engañarle y cuestionar su autoridad. Pero en vez de ser atrapado, Jesús les hace una pregunta que los deja en pánico. San Mateo describe la escena entre bastidores de los sacerdotes y los líderes frenéticamente discutiendo entre si cómo responder a Jesús sin reconocer su autoridad ni tampoco ofender a la gente.

Estos líderes han sido los guardianes de la historia y la fe de Israel por generaciónes. Están acostombrados a ser respetados por la comunidad. Pero sus intrigas contra Jesús demuestran que ya se preocupan más por preservar su privilegio social que por abrirse a las cosas nuevas que hace Dios. Son como el segundo hijo en la parábola, él que dice que sí va a hacer la voluntad de su padre, pero luego no lo hace.

Leyendo la historia en estos días, es fácil pensar mal de aquellos sacerdotes y líderes. Pero la verdad es que demostraban una tendencia muy humana: la de confiar más en la autoridad humana que la autoridad divina. Tampoco somos nosotros inocentes de hacerlo. Somos criaturas sociales, y sentimos la presión de conformarnos con las expectativas de nuestra sociedad humana. Y a veces eso nos hace perder la vista de las expectativas de nuestro Dios.

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Our gospel text for today presents one of those moments in which Jesus’ interaction with the chief priests and leaders is almost comical. These leaders have come to trick Jesus and question his authority. But instead of falling into their trap, Jesus answers their question with another question, leaving them in a panic. Matthew gives us a glimpse behind the scenes of them frantically whispering and plotting among themselves, trying to figure out how to denounce Jesus without offending the crowds.

These leaders have been the keepers of Israel’s history and faith for generations, and they are used to having the respect of the community. But this scheming against Jesus shows that they are more concerned with holding onto their social privilege and position than they are to opening themselves to what new things God might be doing. They are like the second son in the parable, who says he will do what his father asks, but then doesn’t.

Reading this story today, it’s easy to look down on the chief priests and leaders for their hypocrisy. But the truth is that it’s a very human tendency: we tend to trust more in human authority than in divine authority. We are often guilty of it as well. We are social creatures, and we feel the pressure to live up to social expectations. And sometimes that pressure can make us lose sight of what God expects of us. Continue reading

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Sermon: All in the Family

Sunday, September 10, 2017
Peace Lutheran Church, Las Cruces, NM
Fourteenth Sunday After Pentecost

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If any of you grew up with siblings close to you in age, or maybe have kids who are close to each other in age, you know that kids always get along so well, right? They’re polite to each other, they share things, and they never fight.

I know – yeah right!

I grew up with a younger brother and a younger sister, all of us within a few years of each other. I even had a bonus set of siblings – several first cousins who were near my age. And I remember the way we all grew up fighting with one another.

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My sister Molly and I grew up fighting over clothes and toys and shoes, some of which ended up getting thrown at my face!

On my sixth birthday, my cousin Kenny stole one of my dolls, and after a chase, I ended up with a huge scar all across my forehead. You don’t even want to know.

And I remember one family vacation – in my teens! – where my brother Ben and I were so angry at each other we could barely even look at one another. I don’t even remember what we were fighting about anymore. I’m not even sure we knew then.
Kids, amirite?

Does this kind of family drama sound familiar to any of you? Yeah.

It’s amazing how easy it is to fight with the people closest to us, with the people we are supposed to love the most. It’s easy to forget about what holds us together, about the love we owe one another, and to focus on the small things that we may disagree on. Continue reading

Sermon: It Takes More Than Words to Build a House of Prayer for All Peoples

Sunday, August 20, 2017
Peace Lutheran Church, Las Cruces, NM
Eleventh Sunday After Pentecost

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This has been a disturbing and difficult week for our country. I’m sure you all, like me, have been horrified by the news of the violence in Charlottesville. The hatred displayed by these groups is poisoning our nation with violence; and their white supremacy and antisemitism are sin and evil that have no place in the body of Christ.

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White supremacists and neo-Nazis gathered to protest the removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee

In response all these things that have happened, our texts for today offer both comfort and challenge. Our first text, from Isaiah, seems like a very clear message directly from the mouth of God. God speaks, saying, “I will bring [all people] to my holy mountain and make them joyful in my house of prayer; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” This inclusive vision of God’s kingdom stands in stark contrast to the division and hatred in Charlottesville. Instead of chants of “blood and soil” and “white lives matter” and “Jews will not replace us,” this vision resounds with joyful voices raised in prayer and worship: “let the peoples praise you, O God, let all the peoples praise you.” Instead of clashes and deadly violence between protestors and counter-protestors, this vision calls all of us to stand shoulder-to-shoulder in solidarity – as one people before God. It is a beautiful and life-giving vision.

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A candlelight vigil reclaims the space used for the hate groups’ demonstrations

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Sermon: Invasion of the Strawberries

Sunday, July 30, 2017
Peace Lutheran Church, Las Cruces, NM
Eighth Sunday After Pentecost

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Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
Jesus put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”

He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad.  So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

“Have you understood all this?” They answered, “Yes.”  And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen I was growing up in Nebraska, we used to have this huge garden out behind our house. My dad had very carefully laid out all of the beds and lined them with 2x4s, so there was space for corn and carrots, pumpkins and peppers, sunflowers, tomatoes, and so on. My personal favorite was the strawberry patch. I remember going down to gather strawberries with my mom in the summertime; we’d each take a one-gallon ice cream bucket to fill up, and somehow when we made it back to the house, my bucket was always only half full. Very mysterious. But the really mysterious thing about the strawberry patch was that every year, it somehow got a little bigger. First it started creeping into the pumpkin patch, and then it started gradually taking over the green beans, and before too long, over a third of the garden was being invaded by strawberries!

I thought about those strawberries as I was reading the gospel text for today. Strawberry seeds aren’t much bigger than mustard seeds. And like mustard seeds, they have the capacity to grow and spread over pretty big areas. Continue reading

Sermon: Summing it Up

Sunday, June 11, 2017
First Lutheran Church of Logan Square
Trinity Sunday

1I was never very good at math in school – in fact, math was always my worst subject. I had hoped that after I graduated from college, I’d never have to worry about anything more than just simple math ever again. But now in seminary, I’m finding myself having to do math all over again! And the problems have gotten a little more complicated.

Today, we have a very complex math problem, and I want to see if you all can guess the right answer. Are you ready? Ok, here goes. What is 1 + 1 + 1? … In our “theological math,” our faith tells us that 1 + 1 + 1 equals 1 – that is, one God in three persons, three persons in one God. Continue reading

Sermon: Lured Toward the Future

Monday, May 8, 2017
Epic of Creation Course (final project)
LSTC

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Romans 8:18-25
I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

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Wells in the Wilderness

For about the last year, I have been worshiping with the community of St. Luke’s Lutheran of Logan Square — on the Sundays I haven’t been preaching elsewhere, of course.  I chose St. Luke’s because they are a vibrant and visionary community that had the courage to sell their building and open up shop in a storefront, and because of their deep commitment to social justice — and also, largely, to “low-key stalk” my dear friend Erin while she completed her internship year there.

hagar-ishmael-augo4Anyhoo, one of the neat things St. Luke’s does is to engage the congregation in a regular practice of testimony, often inviting laypeople to prepare testimonies from their own lives around a certain theme to read in worship.  This past Sunday was my last Sunday at St. Luke’s before I move to New Mexico for internship (by the way, I’m moving to New Mexico for internship — forgot to make that announcement!).  It seemed incredibly fitting that I should answer a question about experiencing God in the desert before embarking on a literal journey to a literal desert.

My testimony was related to the Hebrew Testament reading — Genesis 21:8-21 — in which Hagar and her son Ishmael are kicked out into the desert by Abraham’s wife Sarah.  I was asked to respond to the question, “When was a time when you experienced God/good news in a place of isolation, abandonment, death?”  This is what I wrote:

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Waging Holy War with the DSM-5

CW: fatphobia, eating disorders, IWL/diet talk

Introduction

“Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels”; this was the oft-repeated mantra of the doctor who once helped me lose over 30 pounds (after having already lost 40) in a little under three months by dramatically restricting my diet. Her words are symptomatic of a larger trend that is deeply entrenched in the medical industry, namely, an underexplored and oversimplified conflation of health and wellbeing with weight. The automatic attribution of poor health to body size has led to an emphasis on reducing body mass, often to the detriment of health. By identifying fatness as a problem in and of itself, the medical industry has made itself a complicit player in the size-ism and weightism that run rampant in U.S. and other developed societies, lending professional credibility to the “fatphobic” attacks of the diet, fitness, and fashion industries on fat individuals. Eating disorders, particularly anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, are a logical consequence of this rampant weightism and size-ism, a natural response to the medically reinforced notion that thin = good and that fat must be avoided at all costs.

The church has resources that can help heal our society’s disordered and unhealthy relationship to both food and body. These resources date back to the early centuries of Christianity; in particular, this paper will explore the relevance of the writings of Evagrius Ponticus, a fourth century Egyptian desert monk, and Gregory the Great, a sixth century Roman pope. Both of these Christian figures wrote extensively about the ancient church’s understanding of gluttony, and about how the relationship between self, neighbor, creation, and God is properly to be understood. Two other key tools in the ecclesial toolkit are a theological affirmation of the inherent goodness of creation, and a robust theology of incarnation. Together, these resources present a countercultural and life-giving alternative to our eating disordered society that is deeply rooted in God’s love and promises. Continue reading

Recovering Ancient Understandings of Gluttony

Book Review/Reflection for Class:
The God of Thinness: Gluttony and Other Weighty Matters by Mary Louise Bringle

       Mary Louise Bringle lays out her book, The God of Thinness: Gluttony and Other Weighty Matters, after the fashion of a meal, titling her chapters “Apértif,” “First Course,” “Second Course,” and so on. I found it fitting, because this book was, indeed, a rich feast of reflection on the issue of gluttony and its relationship to the culture surrounding weight, food, and dieting in our society. I also appreciated that this book was suffused with Bringle’s own struggles with disordered eating and self-image; she conveys a gravity and emotional complexity around this issue which I also deeply feel. Bringle opens up the riches of Christian tradition, history, and theology to respond to this still current question of gluttony. She explores patristic and monastic writings for wisdom on how gluttony is rightly to be understood; I particularly found her discussion of Gregory the Great’s five kinds of gluttony to be clarifying and helpful. And she ultimately shows that gluttony is a matter of disordered priorities that idolize the goodness of creation above its Creator, resulting in damaged relationship to God, to neighbor, and to self. This book was published 25 years ago, but it continues to be extremely relevant.

Evagrius P Continue reading

Making Space for Mystics and Madness

Here’s another bit of writing from one of my classes this semester, this one from the Pastoral Care and Mental Illness course I’ve been taking.  This particular course has had some interesting overlap with another of my classes: Desert Discipleship, which explores the legacy of the desert fathers and mothers of the early centuries of Christianity.  In this assignment, which I conceived as an article for a church newsletter, I propose a connection between schizophrenia and the legacy of St. Anthony.  Enjoy!

st-anthony-the-great-3St. Antony, also known as Anthony the Great, was a Christian monk who lived in Egypt in the third and fourth centuries. He renounced the wealth left to him by his parents and chose to live an ascetic life in the desert, fasting and meditating on Christ. Antony became a wise and famous figure of Egyptian monasticism, but more than anything, he was known for his battles with demons.

St. Athanasius, the fourth century bishop of Alexandria, described these battles in The Life of Antony, which quickly became one of the most popular books in Christian history. Many modern readers will find these accounts more than a little odd, but there was something about Antony’s life and his battles with the demons that earlier generations undeniably found compelling. Athanasius describes how Antony withdraws further and further into the desert, at one point enclosing himself in a deserted barracks and receiving stores of food only twice a year. Athanasius writes:

Those friends who came to see him, since he would not allow them to come inside, often remained outside day and night. They heard what sounded like mobs of people creating a ruckus and crashing around inside, letting loose their pitiful voices and crying out, “Get away from what belongs to us! What are you doing in the desert? You will not be able to endure our connivings!” Those outside at first thought some people… had gotten inside by means of ladders… but when they knelt down to look through a hole in the wall, they did not see anyone. (Athanasius, 2003, p. 89)

1an33__24635_1405404609_900_900Antony instructs his followers to be wary of these demonic voices, telling them that they fill one’s head with “filthy thoughts” and cause “apparitions,” that “they pretend to frighten us by changing their shapes and taking on the appearance of women, wild beasts, reptiles…” (Athanasius, 2003, p. 113)

Hundreds of people flocked to the desert to be taught by Antony, to the point that Athanasius writes that they “forcibly tore down his door and forced him to come out.” (Athanasius, 2003, p. 91) Reading this in the 21st century, I have a hard time imagining this happening in our day. Even though the Christian church has centuries of history and tradition of mysticism and mystery, I can’t imagine people rushing out to sit at the feet of anyone who heard voices and saw apparitions and warned others about demons putting thoughts into their heads today. Can you? If St. Antony lived today, many folks would probably be pretty quick to label him a schizophrenic. They would probably say that he was crazy. Continue reading